A souvenir of marvellous Melbourne: W. H. Rocke’s 1880–81 exhibition cabinet


The Royal Exhibition Buildings, Carlton, stand today as a monument to ‘Marvellous

Melbourne’.1 George Augustus Sala used this epithet in his article ‘The Land of the Golden Fleece’ in the Argus, 8 August 1885, p. 5. Built to house the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880–81, they served

also as the venue for the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888–89. These two

exhibitions effectively symbolise the achievement and optimism of the young colony of

Victoria and neatly bracket the headiest years of the great boom of the 1880s.

The Hon. W. J. Clarke, welcoming the Marquis of Normanby, Governor of Victoria, at the opening ceremony of the Melbourne International Exhibition on 1 October 1880, drew the attention of His Excellency to ‘the contrast presented by the scene here displayed and that which existed less than forty-five years ago where Melbourne now stands’.


Then it was an unknown part of a comparatively unknown land. To-day you are

opening an International Exhibition in a large city, where you are surrounded by the

accredited representatives of the great nations of Europe, Asia, and America, and articles

illustrating the growth, produce, manufactures, arts, and sciences of the whole

world, while this assemblage testifies not only to the wealth and culture but to the

energy and enterprise of the colonists.2 Quoted in Official Record of the Melbourne International Exhibition 1880–1881, Melbourne, 1882, p. lvi.

The Australian colonies made a great showing at the Exhibition with their trophies

of primary produce and displays of basic industrial wares, but in the higher

spheres of manufacture, when they pitted themselves against the long-established cultures

and technologies of Europe and America, they were at a distinct disadvantage.

‘This new era of independence in colonial work does not yet extend to choice production

in tapestries, soft and fancy goods’, noted the London Cabinet Maker and Art

Furnisher.3 Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, London, 2 May 1881, Supplement, p. 176.The cabinet-maker’s skills and tools were, however, readily transportable

and one firm was singled out by the same journal as being of international calibre:

We have no hesitation in giving unstinted praise to the contents of Messrs. Rocke’s

pavilion, the more so because they would bear favourable comparison with the manufactures

of the best houses in Great Britain … Such a collection of colonial art furniture

must go a long way to dispel the notion that anything really artistic must come from

London or Paris. With such artificers and designers as this firm possesses, they can

(unfortunately for us) dispense with their instructors.4 ibid.

William Henry Rocke (1836–1882), founder of Messrs. W. H. Rocke & Co.,

fits exactly the profile of the archetypal Victorian dignitary attending the opening ceremony

of the Exhibition. They all had, according to Graeme Davison, ‘one essential

attribute in common’:

Born in the 1830s, reared in the ‘hungry forties’, every one of them, it appears, had left

his homeland for the goldfields of Victoria in the early 1850s, just as London was winding

up her own original Great Exhibition. In their eyes, Melbourne’s growth was a

thrilling fulfilment of their boyhood ideals and in ripe middle age they naturally

returned to the rites of the Crystal Palace to celebrate their own jubilee.5 G. Davison, The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978, p. 2.

W. H. Rocke was born at Wrexham, northern Wales, and arrived in Melbourne in 1852 at the age of sixteen. After a visit to England in 1857 he opened a furniture warehouse with his father in Great Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. In 1863 he joined the auctioneer Horatio Beauchamp in a partnership styled ‘Beauchamp & Rocke’. Their premises were at 38 and 40 Collins Street East, next to the Bank of Victoria and one of the most valuable addresses in the city. The partnership was dissolved in 1868 and Rocke then carried on business ‘in, his own name and on his own account’.6 H. R. M. Humphreys, Men of the Time in Australia, Victorian Series, Melbourne, 1878, p. 177. The press watched, documenting his meteoric rise – the new facades to the

Collins Street showrooms, the new warehouses and manufactories – to the position of

Melbourne’s premier furniture warehouseman. Rocke’s own publicity machine consolidated

that reputation, placing large and often stylish advertisements in the city’s newspapers

and journals, and publishing promotional handbooks such as Remarks on

Furniture and the Interior Decoration of Houses (1874), in which the firm claimed to

supply ‘Furniture OF THE VERY HIGHEST CLASS, as rich and good as money could purchase,

art design, or taste decorate’.7 W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture and the Interior Decoration of Houses, Melbourne, 1874, p. 3.By 1876 Rockes had about one hundred and

forty-five employees, and, according to the Illustrated Australian News, the whole of

the space occupied by their warehouses and stores would, if put together, have covered

over one and a quarter acres of land.8 Illustrated Australian News, 27 December 1876, p. 204.

As well as having large manufacturing interests, Rockes were major importers

of furniture and ‘fancy goods’. W. H. Rocke himself travelled extensively overseas

throughout the 1870s ‘to choose and order regular supplies of THE BEST THAT EUROPE

CAN PRODUCE in each brand of our Trade’.9 W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture, p. 3. On a buying trip in 1873 he scoured the

manufacturing centres of Britain – Birmingham, Kidderminster, High Wycombe,

Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, where he established an agency. In 1877–78 he visited

the United States (San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Boston, New York) and Canada,

before proceeding to London, Paris, Vienna, Dresden, Cologne, Brussels, Rome, Venice

and Florence.

                                                                                                                                                       Rockes spared neither labour nor expense in mounting their pavilion at the

1880–81 Exhibition and, when completed, it was universally acknowledged as one of

the best. The firm won a silver medal for its efforts and was nominated for the prestigious

Emperor of Germany’s prize. The pavilion was described as follows in the



Facing the avenue is the pavilion of Messrs. W. H. Rocke and Co., of Collins-street east,

Melbourne. It is of such elegant proportions and has been so well finished that it is

without doubt one of the most attractive exhibits along that walk. It is the first object

which arrests the attention of the visitor entering from the front building, and on close

inspection the character of the display stamps it as one of the most complete to be found. The large room is 31 feet square, and is fitted up as a bed chamber in the combined renaissance and Adam style (fig. 1). The walls are panelled with silver and turquoise blue sateen cloth; the styles and dados are painted in the same colors, flatted; the ceiling is also finished off in the same fashion, with an elaborately designed centre piece, and the flooring is in Australian blackwood and Tasmanian Huon pine inlaid in parquette pattern, which has a pleasing effect. The furniture consists of a pier glass, duchesse table and chest of drawers, with Venetian, mirrors, wardrobe and washstand in the woods mentioned, and inlaid with ebony and holly. The suite is draped in the colors of the panels, with fringes of pale blue and pink, and the bed, in addition to having linen and blankets of the best quality, is covered with a real lace quilt. Two windows are hung with curtains also in turquoise blue and silver, and in addition there is fitted a handsome fireplace, the mantelpiece being in blackwood and pine, with white marble facing. On the floor is laid a real Axminster seamless carpet, from Tomkinson and Adams, of Kidderminster; and the room is otherwise ornamented with Dresden china articles and two large bronze statues, carrying lamps. From the ceiling hangs a handsome glass chandelier, also in the renaissance style. The toilet set is to match the general appearance of the room, for which may be fairly claimed completeness, elegance and comfort. Around the pavilion is a raised platform of a few feet in width, and on three sides are shown furniture for a bed, drawing and diningrooms. The second bedroom suite is in the north division, the wall of which is decorated in the early English style, with floral frieze and tiled dado diapered in subdued salmon tints. The furniture is of blackwood, with silver mountings and carvings, and consists of wardrobe, chest of drawers, chairs, duchesse table, washstand and usual bedroom accessories. On the eastern platform is perhaps the finest portion of the exhibits (fig. 2). It includes various specimens of drawing-room  furniture in the renaissance and early English style, the wall being decorated with floral frieze and diapered in lavender. The two windows are draped in old gold and plain plush, and are surmounted with black and gold cornices. In the centre stands a handsome black and gold jardiniere glass, the lower portion adapted for displaying flowers, with solid gilt carvings and painted panels. To the right is a cabinet in early English, made of Thuya and inlaid with ebony, holly, purple, beef, orange and other woods and ivory, and on the left another in satin wood ornamented with ebony, holly and purple. Each has hand-painted panels representing classical subjects, and there are distributed over them some appropriate specimens of pottery and glassware. Two chairs of the different styles covered with Lyons silk are also shown, and at each end is a scagliola pedestal made in Ballarat from quartz tailings, and upon which stands a handsome Dresden china vase. The diningroom is represented at the southern end (fig. 3); the panels are in the early English style of decoration, and upon the frieze have been painted sporting pictures. Here is shown an imposing mahogany sideboard, in the modern style, with plate glass back and carved ornamentations; and another, equally as attractive, in the early English, and made of real oak, with burnished brass hinges, a galleried back and painted and carved panels. Two chairs, one in each style, and both covered with colonial moroccos, are also shown; and in the centre is suspended a small mirror, with a bronze border. The entire display is a very elegant one, and not alone does the firm show the high quality of its furniture, but indicates conclusively its ability to undertake the embellishment of private residences. All the work exhibited – with the exception, of course, of the ornaments, the carpets and the lace – is of Victorian manufacture, and additional value is attached to it by reason of the large amount of colonial timbers which have been used, and which demonstrate their suitability for the best class of furniture. The decorations were painted by Mr. Mather, to whom great credit is due.10 Leader, 9 October 1880, Supplement, p. 4. 

A cabinet (fig. 4) from the ‘eastern platform’ of the Rocke pavilion has recently been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. Veneered in East and West Indian satinwood, it is embellished with incised gilt lines, bandings of purple wood and stained holly, and ebonised borders. Huon pine is used for the drawer linings. The cabinet has four painted panels: two roundels of cupids on the pair of cupboard doors; a spray of laburnum with a goldfinch and butterflies on the cove; and a personification of Music – the Muse standing against a balustrade, with a lyre at her feet – on the cupboard door of the lower stage. The cabinet is also set with mirror panels, which are bevelled on the upper stage and plate glass on the lower stage. 



The style of the cabinet was correctly identified by the press as ‘Early English’, one of the first and most influential styles of the British Aesthetic Movement. Early English designers looked to the indigenous British tradition of lathe-turning and to the furniture of earlier periods – from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century – as a way of restoring some measure of structural and artistic integrity to furniture design and manufacture after the naturalistic and revivalistic excesses of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The style developed in the 1860s but the most influential designs, Τ. E. Collcutt’s cabinet for Collinson & Lock11 See E. Aslin, Nineteenth Century English Furniture, Faber & Faber, London, 1962, pl. 71. and Bruce Talbert’s ‘Pet’ sideboard for Gillows,12 ibid., pl. 61. both date from the early 1870s. By the mid-1870s the style had lost its reformist edge, and attenuated balusters, delicate galleries of bobbins and a general compartmentalisation of design were commonplace features of the work of the leading British manufacturers of ‘Art’ furniture. Rockes’ cabinet is very much in this idiom, inviting comparison, both technically and artistically, with the work of the long-established firm of Gillows. Many of Gillows’ sketchbooks survive from the period13 The Gillows Archive is held by the Westminster Public Library, London. Its contents are available on microfilm under the title “Patterns of Elegance”: The Gillows’ Archive’. The firm was founded in 1695 and was one of the great British cabinet manufactories until its closure this century. and their contents suggest that Rockes’ designer was familiar with the English firm’s work, particularly the designs of the mid to late 1870s. There is, however, an extravagant quality to the cabinet, a mannerism in the handling and rearrangement of the Early English elements – the lowering of the cove from its usual place in the cresting; the provision of arcades of four columns to support the small side-cupboards; the accumulation of busy galleries and alcoves in the nether regions of the lower stage; and the location of the arch of bobbins, usually placed at the top of the kneehole of a dressingtable, under the large central cupboard. These are features that a provincial crafts-man-designer, even one with a London background, may have thought appropriate for an exhibition piece but that a discerning critic, like the reviewer from the Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, might have considered ‘somewhat original’.14 Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, 2 May 1881, Supplement, p. 176. The impression remains, though, of a strong link with Gillows. 

As early as 1878 Melbourne had had the chance to view Gillows’ work at Mandeville Hall, the Toorak mansion of Mr Joseph Clarke, brother of the Hon. W. J. Clarke. After receiving his inheritance in 1874, Joseph Clarke commissioned Gillows to decorate and furnish Mandeville in the latest London style. Furniture for all the principal rooms was sent out from England and the interiors were assembled by a team of craftsmen working under the supervision of a ‘Mr East’.15 The interior of Mandeville Hall is described in detail in the Australasian, 10 August 1878, p. 167. The drawing-room was furnished in satinwood in the Early English style, with silk damask hangings by Bruce Talbert. When completed, Mandeville’s interiors gained an immediate reputation for their stylishness and elegance. Almost immediately, too, they were imitated by local decorators and cabinet-makers. 

Since the mid-1870s Rockes had been hiring skilled English craftsmen16 See W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture, p. 3. In 1877 Rocke, on his European tour of that year, ‘engaged Artists and various Workmen who were skilled in the arts of the world, wherewith to push forward and guide the naturally gifted and forward colonial artisans engaged by this firm’ (Argus, 6 October 1880, Supplement, p. 16). and it is likely that the firm would have made an attempt to employ the members of Mr East’s team when their work at Mandeville was completed, just as Morde Cullis Hill (director of Cullis Hill & Co. but late of Rockes) did in 1881 when he secured the services of the German artisans brought to Melbourne by Professor Reuleaux for the decoration of the German stands at the Melbourne International Exhibition.17 See Melbourne Bulletin, 8 July 1881, p. 13. By 1881 all of Rockes’ departments were supervised by ‘London artists’ engaged by W. H. Rocke during his most recent overseas trip,18 See Melbourne Bulletin, 15 June 1881, p. 16. and in 1883 the firm announced: ‘To meet the increasing demand for first-class Colonial made Furniture, we have, at considerable expense, erected the newest description of Labor Saving Machinery, and have imported English Cabinet-makers (from the well-known firm of Messrs. Gillow and Son), to carry out this special portion of our business’.19 Advertisement in Handbook of W. Howard Smith & Sons, Melbourne, 1883, p. 102. 

Another link between Mandeville Hall and Rockes is forged by the presence on the cabinet of the signature20 J Mather 1880 on the Music panel. The J and Μ are monogrammatic. The signature compares with that on Mather’s painting of Melbourne from Prospect Hill, 1878 (National Gallery of Victoria). of John Mather. Born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Mather – later to establish himself as an important artist in Melbourne – was one of a number of highly skilled Scottish decorators who came to Australia in the final decades of the nineteenth century.21 See D. Ellsmore, ‘Scottish Influences in Nineteenth Century Decorative Art in Australia’, Heritage Australia, vol. 5, no. 3, Spring 1986, pp. 9–13. See also T. Lane & J. Serle, Australians at Home: A Documentary History of Australian Domestic Interiors from 1788 to 1914, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, index (under ‘Decorators’). Before migrating, he worked in London, Paris, Glasgow and Edinburgh, all major centres of the decorating trade in the nineteenth century.22 See Table Talk, 2 November 1888, p. 3. He arrived in Melbourne on board the Loch Long from Glasgow on 3 January 1878, giving his occupation in the passenger list as ‘painter’.23 Inwards Passenger Lists, British Ports, January–March 1878, Public Record Office, Melbourne, microfiche 357. Mather’s remuneration from the Exhibition project appears to have enabled him to abandon ‘the decorative business’ and devote himself ‘wholly and solely to an unremitting study of art’ (Table Talk, 2 November 1888, p. 3), although he advertised as a decorator in the Argus as late as 5 November 1881 (p. 10; information from Joan M. Cornell). An overmantel decorated by him with the figures of ‘Flora’ and ‘Pomona’ and dated 1881 was auctioned by Leonard Joel, Melbourne, on 26 November 1992 (lot G.362). Mather, in later interviews when he was an established figure in the Melbourne art world, seems to have deliberately downplayed and suppressed details of his early work as a decorator. For outlines of his career as an artist, see the standard Australian art dictionaries and J. Clark & B. Whitelaw, Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond (exh. cat.), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985, p. 23. His monogram has recently been discovered on the overdoor panel painting of native and exotic flowers in the drawing-room  of Mandeville Hall,24 See Mandeville Hall Conservation Analysis, vol. 1, Timothy Hubbard Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1990, p. 53. The monogram compares with the initials in Mather’s signatures on the Rocke Exhibition cabinet and on pictures painted soon after his arrival in Melbourne (see note 20 above). indicating that he was a member of Mr East’s team. Mandeville was completed by August 1878,25 See Australasian, 10 August 1878, p. 167. and Mather reappears in January 1880 as the winner of the £4700 contract for the decoration of the Exhibition Buildings, a vast commission he completed with the assistance of a team of thirty craftsmen led by his compatriot James Paterson, of the firm of Paterson Bros.26 The contract was awarded to Mather by the Building Committee at its meeting of 14 January 1880 (see Argus, 15 January 1880, p. 6; information from Joan M. Cornell). The decorations seem to have been largely completed by early July 1880, when a ‘sociable evening’ was held at Lincoln Inn, Carlton, whereat a testimonial was presented to James Paterson, foreman of the team of painters and decorators that worked for John Mather at the Exhibition Buildings (Daily Telegraph, 5 July 1880, p. 2). I am grateful to Joan M. Cornell for sourcing this undocumented press cutting from the Paterson family scrapbooks in the Manuscripts Collection of the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Mather was also engaged by Rockes to decorate their pavilion; he provided the painted and stencilled backdrops of the various tableaux and, where required, painted details on individual pieces of furniture. The figure of Music on the satinwood cabinet can be compared with his Peace – ‘in a white robe introducing Science and Art to Victoria, who stands with outstretched arms and laurel wreath to receive and reward the prized immigrants’27 Official Record of the Melbourne International Exhibition, p. lxxxi. – on the northern arch, facing the main entrance to the Exhibition (fig. 5). 

At the closure of the Exhibition the cabinet and its thuja companion were removed to Rockes’ Collins Street premises, where they are recorded in an 1884 engraving of the ground-floor showroom.28 Illustrated Australian News, 16 April 1884, back cover ill. The hard copy of this issue of the Illustrated Australian News cannot be located. See microfilm roll 143, La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria, for image. In the same year the cabinet appears to have been bought by Mr and Mrs William Greenlaw for their house Villa Alba, in Kew. Greenlaw, General Manager of the Colonial Bank of Australasia Ltd., and his wife were what William Morris would have called ‘digesting machines’,29 William Morris, quoted in L. Parry, William Morris Textiles, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1983, p. 130. overextending themselves to such a degree in the decoration and furnishing of Villa Alba that Greenlaw became one of the first victims of the crash of 1891. Villa Alba was largely furnished by W. H. Rocke & Co. and its drawing-room contained sixteen pieces of the firm’s satinwood furniture, most of it in the Early English style.30 Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., Catalogue of High Art Furniture etc. at Villa Alba, Studley Park Road, Kew, Melbourne, 22 & 23 March 1897, lots 1–16. 

One piece, a satinwood and blackwood cabinet dated 1884, was said to have cost £380 and was viewed by the press in Rockes’ showroom before its delivery to Villa Alba.31 ibid., lot 6. See also Argus, 14 June 1884, p. 9. The satinwood overmantel, decorated by Paterson Bros, with the figures of Romeo and Juliet and a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (fig. 6), has recently been returned to the house, having been sold by the widowed Mrs Greenlaw in 1897. 

The elaborate catalogue of the Villa Alba sale, by Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., lists as lot 8 what is surely Rockes’ Exhibition cabinet: 

SUPERB CABINET, in HIGHLY-GRAINED SATINWOOD, most ornamental and beautiful design, constructed with large centre cupboard, enclosed with door, hand-painted medallion representing ‘Music’, open recesses, with bevelled plate-glass mirrors at back, square pillars, turned spindle rails and galleries, relieved with borders of ebony, edged with thuja-wood, raised mouldings, cornices, incised gold embellishments, etc., artistically-designed back, with half-circle canopy, hand-painted with ‘Flowers, Sprites’, etc., numerous bevelled plate-glass mirrors at back of recesses, turned spindle columns supporting arches, enclosed side cupboards, hand-painted medallions – ‘Cupids’, raised mouldings, carved panels, cornices, incised gold decoration, arched canopies, with bevelled plate-glass mirrors at back, turned spindle columns, pillars, etc.


A very fine work, in the French style,32 Gemmell, Tuckett & Co.’s cataloguer was loose in the use of stylistic terminology. The satin wood and blackwood cabinet of 1884 was described in 1884 as being in the Queen Anne style (Argus, 14 June 1884, p. 9). The French tag in the extract cited here may have been inspired by the very high quality of the cabinetwork. The cataloguer described the pattern of glazing bars on the doors of the overmantel as Gothic, whereas they are based on ‘Chinese Chippendale’ models. and the design carried out with much skill; it is composed of beautiful satinwood, inlaid with ebony borders, carved and engraved, with moulded cornices. The insertion of medallions, artistically hand-painted, are [sic] very effective, and it is impossible to praise the exquisite decorations too highly.33 Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., Catalogue of High Art Furniture, lot 8. 


The purchaser of lot 8 is not recorded but fifty years later the cabinet found its way into the ‘French Room’ of Mrs Stella Hawkes’s house in Nepean Highway, Mentone. The cabinet came to the Gallery as a bequest upon Mrs Hawkes’s death in 1991.   

The furniture exhibited by W.H. Rocke & Co. at the 1880–81 Melbourne International Exhibition earned the firm the ultimate colonial compliment – comparison with the best houses in Great Britain. Rockes’ satinwood cabinet, the only known survivor from the pavilion, provides tangible evidence of taste and fashion in Melbourne in 1880 and of the exceptionally high standard of cabinetwork produced in the city’s leading furniture manufactory. 

Terence Lane, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, National Gallery of Victoria (in 1993).


1     George Augustus Sala used this epithet in his article ‘The Land of the Golden Fleece’ in the Argus, 8 August 1885, p. 5.

2     Quoted in Official Record of the Melbourne International Exhibition 1880–1881, Melbourne, 1882, p. lvi.  

3     Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, London, 2 May 1881, Supplement, p. 176. 

 4     ibid. 

 5      G. Davison, The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978, p. 2. 

 6     H. R. M. Humphreys, Men of the Time in Australia, Victorian Series, Melbourne, 1878, p. 177. 

 7      W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture and the Interior Decoration of Houses, Melbourne, 1874, p. 3. 

 8     Illustrated Australian News, 27 December 1876, p. 204. 

 9     W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture, p. 3. 

 10     Leader, 9 October 1880, Supplement, p. 4. 

 11     See E. Aslin, Nineteenth Century English Furniture, Faber & Faber, London, 1962, pl. 71. 

 12     ibid., pl. 61.

 13      The Gillows Archive is held by the Westminster Public Library, London. Its contents are available on microfilm under the title “Patterns of Elegance”: The Gillows’ Archive’. The firm was founded in 1695 and was one of the great British cabinet manufactories until its closure this century. 

 14     Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, 2 May 1881, Supplement, p. 176. 

 15     The interior of Mandeville Hall is described in detail in the Australasian, 10 August 1878, p. 167. 

 16      See W. H. Rocke & Co., Remarks on Furniture, p. 3. In 1877 Rocke, on his European tour of that year, ‘engaged Artists and various Workmen who were skilled in the arts of the world, wherewith to push forward and guide the naturally gifted and forward colonial artisans engaged by this firm’ (Argus, 6 October 1880, Supplement, p. 16). 

 17      See Melbourne Bulletin, 8 July 1881, p. 13. 

 18     See Melbourne Bulletin, 15 June 1881, p. 16. 

 19     Advertisement in Handbook of W. Howard Smith & Sons, Melbourne, 1883, p. 102. 

 20     J Mather 1880 on the Music panel. The J and Μ are monogrammatic. The signature compares with that on Mather’s painting of Melbourne from Prospect Hill, 1878 (National Gallery of Victoria). 

 21     See D. Ellsmore, ‘Scottish Influences in Nineteenth Century Decorative Art in Australia’, Heritage Australia, vol. 5, no. 3, Spring 1986, pp. 9–13. See also T. Lane & J. Serle, Australians at Home: A Documentary History of Australian Domestic Interiors from 1788 to 1914, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, index (under ‘Decorators’).

 22     See Table Talk, 2 November 1888, p. 3. 

 23     Inwards Passenger Lists, British Ports, January–March 1878, Public Record Office, Melbourne, microfiche 357. Mather’s remuneration from the Exhibition project appears to have enabled him to abandon ‘the decorative business’ and devote himself ‘wholly and solely to an unremitting study of art’ (Table Talk, 2 November 1888, p. 3), although he advertised as a decorator in the Argus as late as 5 November 1881 (p. 10; information from Joan M. Cornell). An overmantel decorated by him with the figures of ‘Flora’ and ‘Pomona’ and dated 1881 was auctioned by Leonard Joel, Melbourne, on 26 November 1992 (lot G.362). Mather, in later interviews when he was an established figure in the Melbourne art world, seems to have deliberately downplayed and suppressed details of his early work as a decorator. For outlines of his career as an artist, see the standard Australian art dictionaries and J. Clark & B. Whitelaw, Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond (exh. cat.), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985, p. 23. 

 24     See Mandeville Hall Conservation Analysis, vol. 1, Timothy Hubbard Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1990, p. 53. The monogram compares with the initials in Mather’s signatures on the Rocke Exhibition cabinet and on pictures painted soon after his arrival in Melbourne (see note 20 above). 

 25     See Australasian, 10 August 1878, p. 167. 

 26     The contract was awarded to Mather by the Building Committee at its meeting of 14 January 1880 (see Argus, 15 January 1880, p. 6; information from Joan M. Cornell). The decorations seem to have been largely completed by early July 1880, when a ‘sociable evening’ was held at Lincoln Inn, Carlton, whereat a testimonial was presented to James Paterson, foreman of the team of painters and decorators that worked for John Mather at the Exhibition Buildings (Daily Telegraph, 5 July 1880, p. 2). I am grateful to Joan M. Cornell for sourcing this undocumented press cutting from the Paterson family scrapbooks in the Manuscripts Collection of the National Library of Australia, Canberra. 

 27     Official Record of the Melbourne International Exhibition, p. lxxxi. 

 28     Illustrated Australian News, 16 April 1884, back cover ill. The hard copy of this issue of the Illustrated Australian News cannot be located. See microfilm roll 143, La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria, for image. 

 29     William Morris, quoted in L. Parry, William Morris Textiles, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1983, p. 130. 

 30     Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., Catalogue of High Art Furniture etc. at Villa Alba, Studley Park Road, Kew, Melbourne, 22 & 23 March 1897, lots 1–16. 

 31      ibid., lot 6. See also Argus, 14 June 1884, p. 9. 

 32        Gemmell, Tuckett & Co.’s cataloguer was loose in the use of stylistic terminology. The satin wood and blackwood cabinet of 1884 was described in 1884 as being in the Queen Anne style (Argus, 14 June 1884, p. 9). The French tag in the extract cited here may have been inspired by the very high quality of the cabinetwork. The cataloguer described the pattern of glazing bars on the doors of the overmantel as Gothic, whereas they are based on ‘Chinese Chippendale’ models. 

 33      Gemmell, Tuckett & Co., Catalogue of High Art Furniture, lot 8.